Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Magnetic Rose Scenario – Running Two RPGs at Once

Magnetic Rose is the first of three stories in the 1995 anthology film Memories. The premise is simple: The crew of the spaceship Corona explores a space wreck, looking for survivors and salvage, encountering increasingly creepy phenomena as they venture deeper into the derelict craft.

How would this work as a TTRPG scenario? I started thinking about it after someone mentioned Magnetic Rose in response to a question about spaceship graveyards on the Alexandrian Discord. I rewatched it for the first time in many years, and thought about using two different RPG systems to play out the difference between reality and hallucinations.

For this I am indebted to a campaign structure that I saw… somewhere online, where players would run Tales From the Loop or some other kids-on-bikes game as the first game system (what I’ll call the “outside game” from now on). They would also run a second game system – D&D or a similar system – as the “game-within-the-game” that the characters in the first game are playing (I’ll call it the “inside game” throughout this post). I can’t recall where I read this idea, so I apologize that I can’t give proper credit for the inspiration.

An AI-generated image of an abandoned spaceship

The Outside Game – It Was Supposed to Be a Simple Job

The scenario begins with the outside game, which could use various science fiction RPGs. The implied setting within Magnetic Rose’s story is lightly sketched, as the segment has less than an hour to work with, but it’s present. The characters are blue collar “space truckers,” in the mold of the characters from Alien. They’re experienced and work well together, but are driven by different desires and motivations.

The important thing is that the PCs are probably in over their heads; they are not hyper-competent Star Trek characters who can figure things out reliably. It should also be relatively rules-light, for reasons that will become clear later. I’ll be using Jason Tocci’s Orbital Decay as my north star, but this is more about vibe than mechanics.

After finishing one salvage job and turning down another, the crew of the Corona receives a distress call. Laws require that they respond and record video of their entry into an apparently abandoned space station, so they reluctantly check it out. They quickly begin to learn that Things Are Not As They Seem.

Other relevant media for inspiration purposes:

  • Event Horizon (it muddles it’s message with inconsistent signposting, but it’s still an excellent reference)
  • Scavenger’s Reign (Kamen’s story, and his flashbacks in particular; but also Sam’s backstory)
  • Prometheus (and various bits of the Alien series generally)
  • Sphere/The Abyss (the strangeness is in the ocean instead of in space, but otherwise similar ideas)
  • William Hope Hodgson (the most famous writer of Sargasso Sea stories about mysterious shipwrecks; Magnetic Rose namechecks the Sargasso Sea explicitly)
  • Many science fiction shows have single episodes that are variations on either Hodgson stories or similarly themed "Flying Dutchman" ghost ship stories
  • Solaris, and Tarkovsky generally (internal made external, at the intersection of the unknowability of alien intelligence and the unknowability of one’s own interior world) 
  • Annihilation and VanderMeer generally (not set in space, but otherwise similar to Solaris for our purposes)
  • Inception (for the concept of “kicking” back up into reality, and the idea of beguiling lies)
  • All Satoshi Kon works (for reasons elaborated upon in the next post)

Next week: The Inside Game – Buying Into a Bad Idea

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